July 6, 2008

Preacher Noel Has the Answer to Society’s Ills. A Quiz Show

By Terry Ramsey

Hero or Villain?

The country is in a parlous state. Things are going wrong. It's time to pull together. Let's make Britain great again. These are the sort of public pronouncements you might expect to hear from whom? Gordon Brown? David Cameron? A little-known backbench Conservative MP from the Cotswolds?

No, none of those. Instead, they were the rallying call this week of Noel Edmonds, TV presenter, quizmaster and cosmic orderer.

There is something disconcerting, and even a little bit skin- creeping, about celebrities making serious pronouncements on the state of the nation. Especially when they seem to believe they can make a difference. All the more so when their last momentous public statement claimed that a positive belief in the cosmos can change lives.

This may be a peculiarly British response - the Americans, after all, have embraced the idea (see Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger). But Edmonds' speech will not have persuaded anyone we are wrong. In fact, he may have set back the cause of celebrities- who-think-we're-interested-in-their-world-view by quite a few years.

His opinions were a sweeping mixture of the obvious and the saloon bar. "Whether we call it broken Britain or toxic Britain, we have to accept that something in our society has happened and someone needs to do something about it," he announced.

He kept on safe ground by expressing despair at the increase in knife crime, but then veered off towards the preachy and pompous by outlining the exact things he didn't like about modern Britain. These include the nanny state, political correctness, speed cameras and the London congestion charge.

Sounding increasingly like a 'Daily Telegraph' reader in the golf- club bar, Edmonds railed against other pet hates, such as "immigration, the NHS and bureaucracy, a lack of joined-up thinking, a focus on world affairs at the expense of issues in our own backyard".

And to show he knows his own industry is far from spotless, he also criticised television. He deplored the phone-in scandals, including one involving his own show, 'Deal Or No Deal' on Channel 4. In general, he said, TV bosses had gone for a "headlong pursuit of audience figures" and viewers were ill-served by TV.

The fact that he was saying this at the launch of his new programme on Sky seemed to be an irony that escaped him. The show, 'Noel's HQ', sets out to reward acts of kindness and to shame the greedy.

And, scarily, he believes it is a contribution to improving the nation. "I really do think we can make a significant difference if we all do a little. This show is not going to change society ... but it is a tiny step."

Another statement likely to cause a sharp intake of breath, or an outright guffaw, is: "I personally believe our leading politicians are completely out of touch with reality."

Hold on. Can this be the same Noel Edmonds who has a 2m mansion near Bath, a 3m villa in the south of France, and who is selling another 40-room manor house in Devon? Who had his own personalised helicopter? Who loves fast cars and admits to driving one at 186mph while naked? Oh yes it is.

But from all his pronouncements there is one line that sticks out ominously. It is: "Someone needs to do something about it". Because who could he have in mind, other than TV's Noel Edmonds?

Perhaps he really thinks he can ride to the nation's rescue - on his high horse, of course. After everything he has said this week, it is easy to imagine Edmonds running for Parliament - maybe under the banner of Noel's Get-Me-Into-The-House Party. But if he is thinking along those lines, there's something he should know: the last thing the nation needs in a crisis is a jumped-up, multi- millionaire television presenter telling us how awful he finds things.

(c) 2008 Independent on Sunday, The. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.